Historic structure receives facelift after fire

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A historic limestone apartment complex owned by Carl Pensel has seen recent interior and exterior renovations following a destructive fire. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

A tragic fire in an apartment complex owned by Carl Pensel has opened the door to an interior and exterior building restoration and a flood of pleasant memories.

1022 Bluff Street

The historic building, located at 1022 South Bluff Street, belonged to Pensel's grandfather, who purchased the property in 1936. "The deed and title show Earnest Behr as the original property owner," shared Pensel. "The property was purchased from the U.S. government on Feb. 25, 1848. The rock walls are all 18 inches thick. The north half was the original building, and had a double door in the front leading into the interior. An 18-inch wall divides the north and south addition. Eventually the double entrance doors were rocked in to create a single door." Pensel, who was born and raised on a farm between Colesburg and Millville, would eventually purchase the property from his parents in 1966. 

Rental property

Finding quality, affordable housing in small rural communities can be a challenge. Pensel's creativity and ongoing efforts to create a welcoming space for his tenants have kept him busy throughout the years. "There are now four apartments in the building, but that was not always the case. Adam Pensel, my grandfather, sold the building to Otto Pensel, my father, in March of 1959. My father wanted to get out of farming and move to town," Pensel explained. "In 1959-60 they completely remodeled the west side of the complex, and added a double garage in 1962. They tore off and raised the roof, and repaired the crumbling west wall, creating space for an upstairs apartment, converting it into four units."

"My grandfather lived in the home from 1936 -1959. My father bought it from him, and when he passed away the property was transferred to my mother. I purchased it from her in July of 1992," he noted. "I have remodeled it over the years, and all four units have been updated and remodeled with new appliances." 

Hillside cave

The property came with an interesting two-room cave carved out of the hillside. "The front of the cave had a rock archway built up in the interior walls. The second room was just sandstone." He recalled, "I remember Sundays, after church, having dinner at my grandparents' house and my parents going up to the cave to have a beer or two. The first room was used for cold storage for vegetables and such. In 1964 or '65 the cave completely collapsed. The only thing that was left was a chimney vent that was in place for ventilation."

"At one time there was a building in front of the cave. It is clearly visible in photos taken in the aftermath of the 1918 tornado. The footings to the building are still there," he said. 

Dual recipe

Up until the building's recent restoration Pensel whitewashed the stucco with a special paint. He shared the recipe, "The paint is a mixture of salt, alum and lime. You mix it up and leave it set until it makes a thick paint. It dries white and turns a little transparent in the rain but it doesn't peel." He chuckled, "It's about the same recipe as lime pickles."

Fire damage leads to improvements

"The destructive fire started in the small enclosed entrance on the front of the house. The fire engulfed the first floor and caused smoke damage to the second floor apartment. The front stucco was scorched black beyond repairs, so I decided to remove the stucco and have the building tuck pointed. Two new entrances with white columns were added," he said.

"I completely gutted the south two apartments and installed laminate flooring. Everything has been updated including new cabinets," Pensel said. 

He concluded, "The building has seen a lot of additions and renovations throughout the years to make the place more efficient, including handicap accessibility."

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